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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    LuAnn Benjamin, who works at the postal service distribution center on Celina Avenue in Nashua, holds a sign at Tuesday's rally in Concord.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    Mark McKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFofL-CIO, speaks at Tuesday's rally in Concord.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    A United Parcel Service worker delivers packages across the street from the postal service rally in Concord September 27, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    There were about 120 people at Tuesday's rally in Concord.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    There were rallies in Concord and Manchester Tuesday, September 27, 2001 to call attention to changes at the U.S. Postal Service. Cuts may mean a change in service for some and job insecurity for workers.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mail workers seek audit of retirement costs, say it will save the service

MANCHESTER – Hundreds of people gathered in Manchester and Concord on Tuesday to drum up support for a bill that they say would rescue the U.S. Postal Service without closing facilities or cutting services.

Around 200 people packed City Hall Plaza on Elm Street in Manchester on Tuesday afternoon, many standing near the street holding signs and encouraging drivers to blare their horns while politicians and union officials rallied the crowd behind them. Another 150 or so gathered near the Statehouse in Concord earlier Tuesday.

The rallies were part of hundreds going on across the country Tuesday, one in every congressional district, to support House Resolution 1351. The bill would direct federal officials to audit the Postal Service, according to union officials, who say that would prove that the service has overpaid the civil service retirement system by $50 billion-$70 billion since the 1970s.

Those overpayments plus a congressional directive imposed in 2006 that it fully fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years has put the Postal Service in dire financial straits, said Ed Barnes, a co-leader of the rallies Tuesday and a shop steward for the National Post Mail Handlers Union Local 381.

“It’s the most straight-forward solution to the single biggest issue we have and it doesn’t cost one dime of taxpayer money,” Barnes of Nashua said.

The rally in Manchester focused on encouraging U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, a Republican, to co-sponsor HR 1351. U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, also a Republican, is one of more than 200 co-sponsors.

After operating in the red for several years, the Postal Service is studying a number of measures – including shrinking the number of its 250 processing facilities around the country, one of which is in Nashua – to save $3 billion annually.

Nashua’s facility on Celina Avenue employs 323 people, but next year it could be partially or fully consolidated with another mail distribution center in New Hampshire or a neighboring state, according to a USPS spokesman.

Steve Smith of Pembroke has worked as an electronics technician at the Celina Avenue facility since 2002. He said everyone there is worried because the future of the site is up in the air.

“The morale’s down because of that,” he said. “Nobody knows what their near future holds, never mind the long term.”

LuAnn Benjamin of Merrimack, an employee at the Nashua distribution center, was at the Concord and Manchester rallies. She said she doesn’t think most people know the full story behind the Postal Service’s financial troubles, including the mandate to prefund the health benefits.

“We don’t need bailouts. We just need that money put back into the Postal Service,” she said. “My take on the whole thing is that I want the public to hear the whole truth. The truth is that because of the retirement overfunding, it’s put the post office in dire need of funding. I think people should really know what the full effect is.”

Tom Conley of Nashua was hired at the Celina Avenue distribution center as a mail handler in 2006. He pointed out that the Postal Service doesn’t depend on taxpayer funds but operates on postage and selling stamps.

“A lot of people don’t know about the post office,” he said. “I think if a lot of people understood that and understood what was going on, they might talk to their congressman and help pass this bill.”

Robert Penttinen of Nashua has worked for the Postal Service for 15 years, mostly recently as a letter carrier in Fitchburg, Mass. He took the day off Tuesday to attend both rallies.

“A lot of people don’t understand the problems with the post office,” Penttinen said. “This is what’s hurting us right now.”

Joe Ruggiero of Manchester works at the processing and distribution center in Manchester. He said most employees think the center there and in Nashua are next on the chopping block.

“I’m hoping it brings attention to the public,” Ruggiero said. “This is the middle class right here. They’re trying to take us out.”

Postal Service mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to drop, according to Tom Rizzo, a spokesman for USPS’ Northern New England District.

Single-piece first-class mail, the postage-stamped letters that have been replaced by e-mail and texts, has declined 36 percent since 2006 and nearly 50 percent in the past decade, he said.

The Nashua distribution facility, indirectly off Amherst Street, handles priority and express mail but not first-class mail, Rizzo said. A facility in Manchester processes all mail, he said.

Union officials said they can deal with reduced mail volume and competition. The real killer is what they say is the unfair mandate to fully fund future retiree benefits.

“The real problem isn’t the loss of mail volume,” Barnes said. “That’s something the mail service can address.”

The earliest a change could come to the Nashua facility would be March, Rizzo said. It could partially or fully consolidate with any other facility.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415,; also check out Joseph Cote (@Telegraph_JoeC) on Twitter.